So Separate from Me at Death

Photo of a fox by Neil McIntosh

Loren Eiseley’s biographers Gerber and McFadden believed that the end of Eiseley’s “The Innocent Fox” represents an exploration of “the greatest miracle of all, human memory.” They wrote:

It is a delicate and haunting piece of writing. Imitating the free, enchanting play of remembrance, Eiseley finally brings us to his father’s deathbed. He sees himself as his father’s memory. He sees, s through his father’s eyes, the dying body. Yet the hands remain curiously responsive. After forty years of pondering the scene, Eiseley now understands the question his father was silently asking: “Why are you, my hands, so separate from me at death, yet still to be commanded?” The great massive otherness of the body, the mystery of our command over it as well as its independent power, the way the self is a dispersible center in the nexus of flesh . . .

The passage ends with T.S. Eliot’s psychological observation from “East Coker”: “In my beginning is my end.”

Eiseley, they say, painted the scene of a human playing with a young fox, “brother, forefather, jester. .” because it is a scene, he argued, not to be seen by “gazing with upright human arrogance upon the things of the world” (p 117). The quote from Unexpected Universe held a crucial irony. Even in that moment of dark recall, Eiseley’s human lineage was to be distrusted. Only through a creature’s eyes would he measure the meaning of that moment.

“It was not a time for human dignity. It was a time only for careful observance of amenities written behind the stars.”

Image credit: Neil McIntosh | Flicker

Originally published at Loren Eiseley Ideas.